John Thompson

Jon Richardson and Matt Forde interview

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In a new series for Channel 4, Jon Richardson and his best friend, comedian Matt Forde, take to the road in a 1972 orange VW Campervan (called Florence) in search of answers to some of life’s biggest questions: Can money make you happy? Is marriage the source of contentment or discord? Who’s a better driver, Jon or Matt?

Today, huddled in the back of their campervan, the pair explain the thinking behind Jon Richardson Grows Up, how it has led to Jon being a changed man, and what Matt was doing there in the first place.

Jon Richardson Grows Up. That’s a big statement. What’s it about?

JR: When we started it, me and Matt were living together, with another mate of ours who’s a comic. And we were sort of… not living hand-to-mouth, in terms of poverty, but you’d earn a bit of money, pay your rent, and go out and get drunk. It’s not in my nature to live that way for very long.

I was very aware that I had to start making some decisions that were going to last a long time. Living with Matt, he sort of softened me up for the first time to the idea of relationships. I’d previously always decided I’d never do anything like that. But as I started to think about it, I realised that 30 was about the age you need to start making those decisions.

So as I was thinking about whether I’d get married and have kids, I thought that the best way to figure it out was to go out and meet people and see what they were doing. Not just people who were living the conventional way. My fear had always been that everyone gets married, has kids, works, retires, and I don’t think many people are happy doing that.

Most marriages fail. A lot of people have kids who aren’t ready, or haven’t thought about it properly. And most of the unhappiness in the world is probably down to people not thinking about their decisions. So I wanted to spend time looking into it all, meeting people who had had kids, people who hadn’t, people who had got married and wished they hadn’t, people who had never married and wished they had, people who got married and had been together ever since, that sort of thing.

I wanted to be able to have an almost mathematical solution, to come back and be able to say definitively what the best way to do things was. Meet someone at 24, get married at 27, have a kid at 31, adopt another at 32, earn £60,000-a-year, that sort of thing. And I needed Matt there to stop me being pessimistic about everything, just going into everything saying “No, they’re lying, they’re not really happy, they’re deluded.

So Matt, you’re the positive yin to Jon’s yang, is that right?

MF: Yeah, I’d say so. You’d admit that, wouldn’t you?

JR: Oh absolutely. I inherently believe the worst. I assume most things will end badly.

MF: I think most people are good, and I think, overall, things end well. And even if they don’t, you just have to think: ‘That’s life.’ It doesn’t mean I’m going to be a hermit for years. You just have to be philosophical about it. I always found it ironic how wise Jon was at a very young age, and how intelligent he clearly is, and yet how he’s had these hardened views since he was quite young that are a bit immature.

I genuinely worried about him for a while – we talk about this a bit in the programme. People often ask me ‘Is he really that OCD or is it an act?’ And I think a lot of the time it was actually worse than you made out on stage. It was really bad, really tragic, and there were specific times when I was really worried.

JR: I had a lot of growing up to do, that’s true. My attitude was, “If everything’s not going to be perfect, I’m not going to do any of it. If you know that most marriages fail, and yet you get married, you are welcoming that misery into your life.” It’s like you’ve chosen for it to happen, in spite of the facts. But that’s a childish attitude, a bit like: “Unless I can play with these toys all day every day, I’m not going to do anything.”

In reality, life isn’t like that. You make decisions, you do your best to make them work, and then you adapt if things go wrong. But it’s taken me 30 years to work that out – that things don’t have to go badly, and if they do, that’s not the end, it’s just part of the journey. But the people we met really helped me change my views.

Like who?

JR: We went to the marriage of two people who’d been married before, her three times, him once. And going into that, I was so cynical. I just felt: “You’re going to get divorced, and it’s going to make you both miserable.” And actually they were such upbeat people, and they’d responded so well to things that had gone wrong in their lives. And they are happy. They were happy with the decisions they’d made.

Do you think it’s a male thing, to worry about the idea of settling down?

JR: I don’t know if it’s a male thing to worry about it. I think it’s just that men have more time to waste thinking about it. For women, biologically there’s a time-limit on when they can have kids, while men have another 20 or 30 years. And the way the world is set up, it’s easier for men to do certain things, so the option is there not to settle down and have kids. Rightly or wrongly, it is different for women.

Matt, were you looking for answers to the sorts of questions Jon was asking, or did you feel like you already knew what you wanted?

MF: I’ve always kept a fairly open mind, but I’ve pretty much known that I’ve always wanted to get married and to have kids. I’ve not got the same approach to it all as Jon has. For me, the joy of it was introducing Jon to these people and trying to prove my point to him. I wanted to open his mind and make him chill out a bit more. But having said that, meeting the sort of people that we met, who were very personable, and had often been through really big things in their life, you can’t fail to learn stuff from them.

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